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The South Island explored by Motorhome, New Zealand, Part 1

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

Kia Ora (Welcome in Maori)

Have you also heard from people that New Zealand is “oh, so amazing and beautiful” well, you might get to read that again, BUT you will also read about what cool things we did in this incredible country so far far away (from most places). Get comfortable and we’ll take you away on our New Zealand adventure.

Covid-19 Safe

With a 2 am arrival in Christchurch we were ready to get to our beds in a cabin in a camp site. New Zealand authorities had other plans. This was early days of Covid19 times, so each passenger had to look the airport staff deep into their eyes and tell them if they felt sick. No cheating! There was even a guy who wasn’t let on board our flight in Sydney, as he clearly looked unwell with flue/cold symptoms. After declaring all four of us fit for… more traveling, we were let into New Zealand having promised to call a specific number should our well-being change.

Go Small or Go Big...

We spent 2 days playing, relaxing, reading and playing around on the campsite before we were ready for our next road trip – 3 weeks in a motorhome exploring the South Island of New Zealand. We had originally booked a campervan – imagine a small van that can change into 2 small double beds. When we saw what we had booked, we all froze… how were we going to fit four people and our luggage into this little van… The boys got into each their seat – between them was the transportable toilet! Right the in a central location inside the van… hmmm…. Still… where to put our luggage? and when time came for changing it into beds… no way! We even talked to a family of four who were returning their campervan. “Don’t do it” was their advice. So, we didn’t. We had to find something bigger, but being pre-corona, everything was sold out. Only one other option available – a big motorhome! We were in a bad negotiation position, but after some time of putting our well-developed talent for talking, negotiating and charming forward, we ended up with an affordable price.

Gone Big and Getting Big Experiences

We were finally off, on our way to cross the South Island. Our plan, now that we were in a self-contained motorhome, was to stay overnight in nature as much as possible. After few hours we pulled over at Castle Hill to do a short hike up to these huge soft curved rocks, that looks as if they have gently been tossed out on the green hills. Along our hike we got up close with some sheep, that we would come to see all over NZ. But it’s a different breed to the “normal” sheep. These ones have thick super curly wool all the way down to their hooves – they really look adorable. After a great hike with lots of playing around and climbing the rocks under a beautiful blue sky, having the entire place all to ourselves, we hiked back to our motorhome and drove on.

Freedom Camping

Our first night in the motorhome we spent by the most beautiful little lake up in the mountains in nature. We couldn’t have asked for a better start to our NZ motorhome adventure. Boys playing around outside with sticks and Martin and I could enjoy some great NZ wine while enjoying incredible views! This was just what we have dreamed of, and believe it or not, it continued that way.

Cold Mornings

The next morning, we woke up in a cold motorhome but to a stunning view of the calm lake slowly waking up as the sun slowly hit us coming up over the mountains. We carried on to Arthur’s Pass, where we went hiking through the lushest and greenest nature up to the Devils Punchbowl Waterfall! On our way, we filled up up our water bottles with fresh mountain water from the cold and busy river running that we had to cross. These incredible experiences and hikes in nature kept amazing us as we explored beautiful New Zealand.

Greener Than Green

Back from our hike we went looking for the one and only mountain parrot, the Kea. They are often spotted in this area, but even after having been to all the places where they are seen daily, we did not see the Kea! We drove on crossing the Southern Alps and made it out to the West coast. Beautiful drive and interesting to see nature changing from flat fields on the east coast crossing bare green hills and up into the mountain range. Coming out to the west coast it was a greener than green nature with ferns, palm trees and thick bushland that awaited us.

Pancake Rocks

In the next days, we traveled first north and then back south on the west coast. Spending a night in Greymouth in a cozy spot - behind a gas station. As strange as it sounds, it was a nice place to pull over for the night. We also explored the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki (mudstone that has been washed away and left the limestone looking like huge stacks of pancakes).

Dining With Sealions

Up near Westport we had dinner on the beach nearby a sealion colony, where we could hike out after our picnic. This was also where we had our first encounter with the very curious and cheeky weka (hen size native NZ bird with a long beak). We held on to all of our belongings, so the weka didn’t get a chance to walk off with a new belonging.

Cave Tubing

First thing the next morning we drove off to the The Underworld Adventures for a very special experience. We all changed into a top to toe Neoprene outfit, went on a special mini-train ride through the rainforest, then hiked through incredible nature each carrying our own tube, before we finally started hiking down inside the caves. After a while exploring the cave (with a guide), we made it to some water, went into our tubes, enjoyed thousands and thousands of glow worms in complete darkness before we rafted out the caves in our tubes and finally blackwater rafted down the river! What a day and what an experience (though a cold one for our youngest)!

Come Rain...

Then, for the first time in months, we hit several days of rain and fog. This meant that we missed some highlights which are only doable or visible in days without clouds/rain. No Lake Mahinapua for us, and no glazier experiences etc.. Instead we enjoyed some great days with short trips out of the motorhome but most time spend inside driving and exploring from the inside of our motorhome.

We found some really special places to stay overnight out in the middle of nowhere with only few other people nearby – mostly on DOC sites (Department of Conservation – beautiful spots for overnight stays - 1-3 days stay for 15-30 NZ dollars per night).

Green Pools

After three days of rain, we woke up in a cold motorhome (as we did every morning) but this morning the sun was hitting our faces – what joy. We wanted to hike to the Blue Pools, but halfway through the hike there, it started to rain again! Hiking on to the “Blue Pools” in the rain, they were not so blue when we arrived. They were, however, very green. With Martin practicing his cold showers (Wim Hof Method), he jumped into the ice-cold water and went for a swim with the few other hikers taking pictures! It’s supposedly a “fresh” swim there during the summer, but mid autumn it gets even colder.

Blue - Finally

Back up and back in our motorhome, we drove on to Wanaka, stopping at Lake Wanaka on the way. Now, the weather was on our side, and we finally got to experience the beautiful and very blue/turquoise water, that is only seen on days with clear blue skies, and which we had missed now at several other places, where lakes and water holes were gray or green, as opposed to turquoise on a day with clear blue sky.

Wanaka Fun

In Wanaka we enjoyed the foreshore of the lake and the next morning we went up to Puzzling World I had visited this place 18 years ago, when I first travelled in NZ – and it had only improved with new and even more eye- and mind blowing challenges as well as an outdoor maze. Such a fun experience for the whole family.

Too be continued… We have had so many incredible experiences on our family motorhome adventure around the South Island, that I have to break it up into Part 1 and Part 2.

Part 2 will follow shortly... hang tight, and make sure to sign up so you won’t miss out on our next blog posts about the South Island!

Maybe you would like to read about how our travels were put on hold due to an 8 week Covid19 Lockdown in New Zealand, or what a typical day in the Forever Travelers Family looked like during the Lockdown.

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